Britain has 2.3 million cubic metres of nuclear waste stored around the country - more than enough to fill the Albert Hall five times. Exposure to even a tiny amount of the most potent type could kill an adult within two minutes - and it remains lethal for one million years. It will cost �85 billion to bury all this radioactive rubbish - but our governments have dodged the decision of where to put it for 30 years. As Tony Blair takes the first steps towards building ten new nuclear reactors to plug the looming energy gap, shouldn't we clear up this mess first?

A new generation of nuclear power stations must not get the go-ahead until the Government has resolved what to do with Britain's growing radioactive waste mountain, its own advisers have warned.

The UK's civil and military nuclear industries are estimated to have bequeathed enough radioactive material to fill the Royal Albert Hall five times over, with a potential disposal cost of £85bn. Mounting disquiet within senior scientific circles emerged yesterday as the Trade and Industry Secretary, Alan Johnson, launched the much-heralded Energy Review, which is expected to pave the way for up to 10 new nuclear plants when the current ones become obsolete.

Environmentalists claim that relaunching Britain's civil nuclear programme could increase levels of the most radioactive form of waste fourfold. They accused Mr Johnson of launching a "spin operation" in favour of nuclear power after he said "doing nothing was not an option" if Britain was to reduce greenhouse gases and achieve energy security in the face of dwindling North Sea oil reserves. Some members of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), appointed to oversee the issue, are incensed that Tony Blair has, in effect, signalled a return to nuclear power before making a decision on what to with existing waste. At present, only 8 per cent of the existing 2.3 million cubic metres of radioactive material has been securely packaged. The rest is in temporary surface storage facilities at 37 sites. It is estimated up to 24 of those, many on the coast, could be at risk from the elements or rising sea levels.

Professor Gordon MacKerron, chairman of CoRWM, said a final recommendation by his colleagues will not be published until July and talk of building new nuclear power stations before then could undermine the process. "People expect the waste issue to be resolved before any decision is taken on building new reactors. That was what we had been led to believe was the Government's position," he said. "The Government always made a commitment that it will need to solve the waste problem before a rebuild decision. Given that the report on rebuild is expected in early summer it puts pressure on us."


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